Wednesday, June 11, 2008


H.J. von Maydell, Hamburg University

Applied Research in Agroforestry

Many previous rural development schemes and programmes have failed, because they did not fully incorporate the people involved, the socalled target-groups.

From this very reason, although technically and economically highly advanced, they often proved to be impracticable. One of the main constraints emerging from such desintegration was that the most energetic and capable people left their rural home and migrated to urban centers, leaving behind women, children and elder people, struggling for survival under harsh conditions but not open for innovations.

Is there a realistic chance to create more and more attractive jobs through agroforestry? People will only accept and further develop agroforestry if “it pays”. Thus agroforestry must not be primarily the art of skillfully combining forest and fruit trees with annual and perenial crop plants and/or animals but the art of making rural life, primary production, interdisciplinarity, etc. more attractive. “Attractive” may involve a variety of criteria, ranging from maintaining cultural identities and traditions to tenural arrangements, over higher (cash) income, lower risks, etc. to prestige and reducing the expenditure of (manual) work.

The latter appears to be reciprocal to the demand for more jobs, but only at the first glance. It may include reorganization of the labour division between specific social groups and even within families, redistributing responsibilities between men, women and children. Again, first steps were made within the last 10 years, but in future agroforestry will have to be much more oriented towards socioeconomic than ecological and technical progress.

Nevertheless, agroforestry must never be an attempt to return to stoneage practices of land use or to merely re-allocate resources subject to ideological trends. If agroforestry is to be successful in future, the most dynamic and advanced technologies will have to be fully incorporated like those of biotechnology, and spesifically gene tecnology. It is indispensable to benefit from the wisdom and deeprooted, site-specific experience of rural people, cultivating their lands according to well-established traditional rules, but it is likewise indispensable to be ahead of other land uses in order to become or remain competitive.

Agroforestry research will thus have to be diversified and to expand into hitherto increasingly higher skills for interdisciplinary work and utmost standards of quality. If such research is carried out by specialists at international level, they will be the danger of isolating the scientist’s progress from the grassroot practice.

Quoting an ICRAF publication, “The nutritional value of any food that is not eaten is zero, regardless of its chemical composition”. In other words, applied research, however dynamic and progressive, will have to make sure that its results will be transferable and at a given time applicable by those for whom they have been developed. The “primitive” farmer’s family is expected to verify what research teams and computers have designed. This is essential for future evaluation of agroforestry progress. Evaluation, after diagnosis and design, should from a local research topic for the future. So far, much is still left to subjective empirical judgement, and to presumption rather than on hard facts. This will have to be changed.

International research in agroforestry should, therefore not only be propagated and further developed in a horizontal dimension, i.e. initiating wordl-wide cooperation, but also in a vertical dimension, i.e. from top scientists and “high-tech” institutions to the people working with their fields, forests and livestock. This depends on the result of their labour and many risks, and more than often they were left alone if national or regional programmes did not correspond with political developments.

Oncemore, agroforestry is more than a technique. It has, therefore, a high potential to change structures and functions of rural systems. This implies both, a challenge and specific responsibility. Agroforestry research has endevoured not only to create awarness and expectations but also to find answers to many questions, today and tomorrow and provide the “knowhow” for a wide practical implementation.

Evaluation of Agroforestry Sytems

Monitoring and evaluation are the main instruments for adapting an agroforestry project to changing conditions and/or demands and thus have a direct influence on re-designing and current control. Quite often, however, monitoring and evaluation are still restricted to linear causa-effect functions whereas the highly complicated feedback functions within system networks are rarely recognized and the dynamics of evaluations/developments hardly elaborated. A number of questions can be applied to get answer:

- Is agroforestry effective i.e. are the methods and practices appropriate to meet the objectives of integrated land use? (No matter how much it costs).
- Is agroforestry efficient, i.e. can the input/output ratio be justified for a given project or farm?
- Is a specific agroforestry system or practice significant, i.e. does it have lasting relevance (sustainalility) and multiplier effect? If accepted, can it be transfered and further developed?

Mos important, however, is the question wether the so called target group, the rural population, will be ready and capable to continue with their own means and resources after an initial, outside-sponsored introduction or improvement of agroforestry.

1 comment:

Fernando C. Zamora said...

hi. i agree with you. programs should in the first place involve the people or the stakeholders in all processes - that is from - start to finish... one thing that i considered factor for failure is when stakeholders see the projects are come and go...that is they don't actually see the projects/programs as part of their lives or to continue their lives. programs with funds are more often seen as opporunity for some people to eat up rather than an opportunity to start a new life...